The Finish Line Is Only the Starting Point

10 Oct

I’ve been derelict in writing for weeks now. There are lots of good reasons or at least good excuses: I travel a lot for work, I have kids who I’m supposed to mother and a lot of volunteer work on my plate right now. It’s also true that I’m struggling to find the hook to get writing again, to make the words flow, and trying to find the way to give my history some shape and context so at least it makes sense to me, if no one else.

And I struggle with the meaninglessness of writing. Let’s face it: If you don’t know me personally (and few reading this do) and if I didn’t tramp this blog’s URL around on WordPress forums or Twitter, you wouldn’t be here. This blog is simultaneously an exercise in emotional decompression as it is an exercise in ego. I feel worthless and stress about that so I write about my worthlessness — but what I really want you to do is say, “oh, you’re such a talented writer – how can you feel worthless? You’re not worthless at all!” And some of you play the game and do just that — which simply increases the self-loathing.

How bad is the self-loathing? I celebrate successes momentarily and then move onto the next one (what’s the point in doing more? Success is fleeting) and I wallow in failure privately (I have no patience for sympathy). There’s no way to win here. But at least I’m being honest. Does that count for anything?

(Note: That’s a slyly placed trick question. You can’t win regardless of the answer.)

The other reason I haven’t written much is I’ve picked up running the last few months and the training increased as the mega-milestone of a marathon has approached. The training is exhausting. I can no longer say that I loathe running but I feel I’m resigned to the experience in the same way I tolerate the awkward calls with my mother every Sunday. Sometimes there are great moments but most of the time it’s self-imposed obligation.

There are a lot of things about running that are extremely difficult. There’s the panic when I see the pacer get farther and farther ahead. There are the demoralizing moments when I see each person I know pass and the shame of seeing the marathon entertainment pack up beginning around mile 16 because they’ve already been out there for a bit and the ones left on the course are the running equivalent of wastewater. There’s the seeming insurmountability of reaching the finish line (tempered with the realization that the finish line is actually the quickest way back) and the subsequent humiliation of having my name called, taking from me the last comfort of total anonymity (painstakingly maintained throughout the run by wearing my cap low and tucking my bib in half so my number and name couldn’t be seen).

After my name was called at the finish line, I grabbed a medal – not because I wanted it as a keepsake but because I had promised a gold coin to my son. I was offered a mylar blanket and food, which I refused because my discomfort was my price for poor performance. My little sister, who had finished almost two hours earlier, called out my name from the side.

“Hey, wait!” She’s flushed and slender and stinks to high heaven, not only because of her run but because she got into a tussle with a skunk the night before (another story entirely but I’m pretty sure among the reasons she beat out so many other runners is because no one wanted to run nearby her).

I glance at her while speed walking. “Oh, hey. You’re still here?”

“Yeah! Where are you going?”

“I’m heading home so I’ll see you there.” Behind her is my brother, wrapped in his mylar blanket — he looks dumbfounded as he realizes I’m not going to stop. I continue walking as fast as I can, and my sister fades away to black with my brother and other sister who were there. Even my sister with a sprained foot finished an hour before me.

Out of self-imposed punishment for poor performance, I jog around the city until my watch loses its charge, around 31.8 miles. I send my husband a text message and let him know I’ll be home in about an hour. He replies:

“We were trying to come down and see you.”

Me: “Nah, no worries. I’m almost at the train station.”

Him: “The marathon website estimated you finished later so we thought we had time. We’ll head home and see you when you get there. Good job on your run.”

My husband tries but the meaning I take from that exchange is that even the marathon website and my husband thought I am disgustingly slow. Maybe I should be happy that I came in before the estimates but that seems kind of like joyfully telling the weight guesser at the fair that you only weigh 250 pounds, not 300 and you “won.”

I board the train, cold and wet, and so smelly that the local homeless go to the other end of the car. Climbing the stairs to the garage is hard but I refuse to make any concessions.

I ice bath when I get home and then stand in the hot shower for a bit. Sweat and salt wash away much easier than shame and failure, but being clean and warm still feels good. I follow it with a couple of beers and there’s nothing wrong with that either.

My phone vibrates with a message from my brother: “The first marathon is full of many challenges, not all physical. Relax – have some wine. You did great today.”

Snarkily I muse that his words remind me a little of a Confucius-style fortune cookie, but even I’m not so brought low that I’ll respond that way. The phone vibrates again:

“In case you didn’t know, Lizzie and Freddie were crushed that you didn’t stop to celebrate with them. They also really wanted a picture with you.”

My response: “I’m sorry – that’s too bad. I’m surprised anyone would wait given I was so much later and figured you were there enjoying the event. On the other hand, when do I ever go for pictures or celebrate mediocrity? (Answer: Never.)”

My brother: “You’re anything but ordinary. I’m proud of what you did today. It was awesome.”

I wish I could take that to the bank and deposit it. But all I get from it is that I’m so lousy at this gig that people were surprised I did it.

It doesn’t matter, really. I’ll spend today crying it out. Tomorrow I’ll register for another marathon and I’ll try to do better. What I lack in performance and aptitude, I have in stubbornness. This next time, though, I’m doing it alone. If I fail, it’s private. If I succeed, it give myself a single pat on the shoulder and find the next white whale.


Posted by on October 10, 2011 in Uncategorized


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3 responses to “The Finish Line Is Only the Starting Point

  1. Becoming herself

    October 10, 2011 at 11:55 PM

    Well, you are a very good writer and you have something to say. And I think that, even though I’m someone who doesn’t know you. When this post arrived in my inbox I remembered your last one. How often does that happen? I say, keep writing; see where it takes you, see how it goes. Looking forward to the next post – hope it’s not so long coming this time…

    • Thoughtful Whatnot

      October 11, 2011 at 8:54 AM

      Thank you, BH. Today I feel a bit ashamed of the gracelessness of my post yesterday, not to mention the gracelessness of my treatment of my sibs. It’s hard to have that point of view when wallowing in self-directed anger. That said, the writing does help both working through the moods and gaining perspective — even though there may be more bad and ugly than good. I appreciate your kindness.

  2. Becoming herself

    October 14, 2011 at 9:26 AM

    You’re welcome. And thank you for your note. I appreciated it very much.


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